Dateline 1964: The Beatles' arrive in America. Although we all know about that fateful night on The Ed Sullivan Show and the teen-girl frenzy it led to, it also spawned the ripple effect of rock 'n roll mini-scenes thriving in places as far flung as Portland, New Orleans, Boston and Detroit. For every group of high school boys who picked up guitars and formed a band, there was a local venue to play in, a radio station to pick them up, and a 45 RPM record or two to be pressed and (hopefully) get heard coast-to-coast. With Teen A Go-Go, documentarian Melissa Kirkendall looks at this phenomenon as it happened in Fort Worth, Texas.
Garage rock from the 1960s is a leaner, more attitude-drenched version of the stuff that hit the charts at the same time - what the bands lacked in finesse was made up for in sheer spontaneity and passion (all those teen hormones needed an outlet somewhere). Using lots of music snippets, archival clips and interviews with the now middle-aged band members, Kirkendall's film traces the rise and fall of Fort Worth's British Invasion-inspired garage rock scene - a time that instilled fond memories in the participants despite its brief popularity (like most local teen-rock scenes around the U.S., it pretty much petered out around 1968). The choice of Fort Worth in particular is interesting - since it was close enough to metropolitan Dallas (The Beatles' September 1964 tour stop there was a catalyzing moment) to benefit from its influence, and yet isolated enough for the local youth to put their own uniquely Texan spin on the music and social scene.
As Teen A Go-Go's interview subjects demonstrate, this scene was as much about teenagers expressing themselves as the music itself. The film details the kids' gradual awareness that by joining a band you can attract the attention of the opposite sex - and even be considered cool despite having no athletic ability. The sudden onslaught of teen bands prompted the need for a local hangout for dancing and battle-of-the-bands contests, and so the all-ages club Teen A Go-Go was established. Many of the bands became locally popular - names like The Vipers, Larry & The Blue Notes, The Novas, The Elite and the all-girl The Kandy Kanes. Those who were good enough to have recording contracts wound up cutting singles that would eventually get nationwide distribution, although none of these tunes became hits beyond the local radio airplay charts. The closest thing to a celebrity in this doc would be Major Bill Smith, producer of Bruce Channel's 1962 hit "Hey Baby" and a man whose colorful personality prompts some of the film's more animated reminiscing.
The modestly produced Teen A Go-Go is clearly a labor of love for the people who put it together. Like the music it celebrates, the film is scrappy around the edges (okay, it looks as if it was edited on someone's home PC) but it's enjoyable all the same. If there are any flaws here, it would be that many of the more repetitive interview segments could have been shortened in favor of longer excerpts from the records themselves. The film does convey a lot about the Fort Worth scene in that halcyon time, however. Anyone who grew up there would surely dig it.
Teen A Go-Go was shot using standard-issue video equipment. The 16x9 anamorphic widescreen image is moderately good, if somewhat pixelated. The film also uses a lot of archival material of varying (mostly poor) quality.
The stereo soundtrack is decent sounding but strangely unbalanced, with whisper-soft speaking voices butting up against loudly pitched music. No subtitles are included.
Aside from trailers for other Cinema Libre films, the supplementary material includes a few short video pieces. The Beatles Story (5:54) details the Fab Four's September 1964 concert stop in Dallas via several eyewitness accounts. The Making of the Ft. Worth Teen Scene CDs (5:57) speaks with the compilers of a series of discs that brought the Fort Worth garage rock sound back into circulation. In Lenny Kay [sic] and the Nuggets Interview (6:20), musician/historian Lenny Kaye discusses how he came to compile the Nuggets LP set for Elektra records in the early '70s and how it influenced the punk rockers and beyond (this bit was actually more fascinating than the feature itself). The Making of Teen A Go-Go (11:46) is a simple sit-down with directing/producing team of Melissa Kirkendall and Mark Nobles talking about the often arduous production of the film.
Teen A Go-Go's nostalgic look back at Fort Worth's teen music scene in the '60s serves as an affectionate scrapbook for those who experienced it firsthand, or any Texan seeking some local flavor. While the film is a bit too threadbare and rambling to have a wider appeal, garage rock fans may find it a diverting watch. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and dilettante-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's seen are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.